Israel Pulse

Mideast conflict needs Scandinavian drive

Article Summary
Scandinavian experience at peacemaking and human rights could again prove useful at jump-starting the deadlocked Israel-Palestine negotiations.

"But why Oslo?" US President Bill Clinton asked Israeli President Shimon Peres when the Israeli leader broke the news to him about the 1993 agreements. The answer is still relevant today. In an era in which imposing peace is impossible, facilitating peace is an important element of peace diplomacy. Such facilitation is about the creation of the right environment and conditions for negotiations as well as socioeconomic assistance in a post-conflict process.

Medium-scale powers, not superpowers, have the best chance of playing a facilitating role. These are countries with the soft power of good economies and a tradition of peacemaking and human rights — those who can be honest brokers without intimidating the parties concerned. This is probably what the new Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven had in mind when he announced Oct. 3 that Sweden would recognize a Palestinian state. According to diplomatic sources in Stockholm, the move was intended both to place the new government on the EU policymaking map and to serve as a wake-up call to the rather dormant European partners.

The Palestinian leadership hopes that the Swedish move will create a bandwagon effect in Europe. They are mainly aiming for the United Kingdom — encouraged by the Oct. 13 decision of Westminster) — as well as France and the other Scandinavian countries.

Another Nordic move in favor of the Palestinians was Norway's hosting, together with Egypt, of the Oct. 12 "Gaza reconstruction" conference. Since the Oslo Accord in 1993, the Norwegian government has been driving donor community efforts on Palestine and is one of the biggest contributors to the Palestinian economy.

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A Norwegian source who participated in the Cairo conference for Gaza rehabilitation told Al-Monitor that he came out extremely concerned about the prospects of healing the Gaza Strip. The security arrangements between Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas are complicating the entry of materials to Gaza. The deep suspicions between the parties make these arrangements difficult to implement and create red tape. The Norwegian source claimed that without a viable Palestinian-Israeli peace process for a two-state solution, all the efforts for Gaza would be only an intermezzo between two wars. He echoed Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's proposition that such a process should be based on the Arab Peace Initiative.

Both Sweden and Norway have a tradition of involvement in Palestinian-Israeli conflict resolution. The late Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme was a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause. The Norwegians have the Oslo legacy to live up to.

The Scandinavians are known to sustain peace efforts with stoic Nordic patience and resilience. The word patience has many synonyms in the Scandinavian languages.

The Norwegian diplomat Terje Rod-Larsen, a special envoy of the UN secretary-general to Lebanon who initiated the Oslo process, is looking constantly to revive the peace process. "We must rethink the traditional pattern of the peace process and come up with innovative solutions," he told me last week.

Discussions between Norwegian officials and the Peres Center for Peace have yielded a proposal by which a Scandinavian peace initiative would be created, focusing on Scandinavian assistance to the creation of an independent state, while taking into account Israel's security interests.

According to this thinking, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland would propose a plan for both West Bank and Gaza economic rehabilitation and development. It would accentuate state institution building, physical and human infrastructure development, joint technology ventures and "people-to-people" projects with Israel.

Such assistance could be a major contribution to Palestinian statehood. The Nordic countries are maybe the only countries that not only know how to make money, but also how to spend it. The Scandinavian welfare model could eventually be very useful to a new state of Palestine, as it combines a successful private sector with a large public sector that is involved in all social welfare issues. The issues of financial transparency and accountability of the Palestinian economy would also be well served by cooperating with the Nordic countries.

The Scandinavian contribution would combine economics with politics. The end of the Israeli occupation is a necessary but insufficient condition for Palestinian statehood. The Swedish and Norwegian political drives for Palestine could be matched by a public-private economic partnership of all Nordic countries, involving progressive governments and large private sector groups such as IKEA, Ericsson and Nokia.

In parallel, the Scandinavians would encourage projects to enhance Israeli-Palestinian cooperation focused on technological entrepreneurship and involving Nordic, Israeli and Palestinian companies.

Furthermore, the cerebral Nordic peoples are best in furthering the human dimension of peace by facilitating large-scale people-to-people projects to affect the hearts and minds of Israelis and Palestinians. Such projects could include youth exchange and city-to-city cooperation.

At the same time, secret back-channel talks on permanent status could take place in one of the Scandinavian capitals. Senior Palestinian officials previously involved in the Oslo process have already indicated that they would welcome such a plan. They trust the friendship of all Nordic governments and are prepared to adopt some Scandinavian governance models in the West Bank.

US Secretary of State John Kerry participated in the Cairo conference and may look at the Scandinavians as partners for a new collective diplomacy effort following the midterm elections.

The Benjamin Netanyahu government was taken by surprise at the Swedish decision and rebuked the Swedish ambassador, in what has become an embarrassing ritual at the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Oslo is an expletive for this government — the same fate awaits the notion of "a Palestinian state."

In the situation of two nonpartners in Jerusalem and Ramallah, a disillusioned US administration and a hesitant European Union, the Scandinavians could possibly again be the deus ex machina needed in our region.

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Found in: two-state solution, peace, palestine, oslo accord, negotiations, israel, benjamin netanyahu

Uri Savir has spent his professional life working on the strategies of peacemaking in Israel. In 1996, he established the Peres Center for Peace and is currently the center's honorary president. In 2011, Savir founded the YaLa Young Leaders online peace movement. On Twitter: @Uri_Savir

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